MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives approved on Tuesday legislation to criminalize almost all abortions performed in Alabama.
Seventy-four Republican House members voted for the bill, three Democrats voted against it. Many other Democrats had already left the chamber in protest when the vote was taken.
House Bill 314 makes performing an abortion a Class A felony, but women who seek or have abortions would not be criminally liable. The only exceptions in the bill are if there is a serious health risk to the woman or if the fetus has a “lethal anomaly.”
The bill now goes to the Senate.
Bill sponsor Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, said on the House floor that it is designed as a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, and redefine when life begins.
“When I was pregnant with my first child, my grandmother went with me to have the ultrasound,” Collins said on the House floor while introducing the bill. “When we saw that little hand on the screen, we waved at it because we knew it was a person.”
“Is that baby in the womb a person? I believe our [state] law says it is, and our people say it is, and our technology says it is,” Collins said.
There is no exception for rape or incest in Collins’ bill. An amendment to add those exemptions was offered by the House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, D-Huntsville, but was tabled by Republicans.
Attempting to perform an abortion would be a Class C felony, punishable with one to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Several groups have said they will sue to stop the law if it’s enacted.
Rep. Merika Coleman, D- Birmingham, offered an amendment that would make any expenses incurred by the state for court challenges to the bill deductible from the pay of legislators who voted for the bill.
“If you believe in this piece of legislation so much, then put your money where your mouth is,” Coleman said. “Don't have the taxpayers foot an additional bill, they already pay your salaries. Put your money where your mouth is.”
The amendment was rejected.
Coleman said she does supports life too, but thinks this bill is only protecting birth.
“There are some people who just support birth, not life, because after a child is born there needs to be more done to ensure that child has a happy and successful life,” Coleman said.
The bill passed amid a frenzied State House. House Democrats at first worked to delay the flow of legislation to prevent the bill from coming up, and later staged a walkout to protest the bill.
Activists opposing the bill were removed from the House gallery after attempting to paint the word “dumb” on the glass separating the seats from the chamber. At least one protester was arrested.
Last year, Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment declaring the policy of Alabama is “to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life ….” It also says it is the policy of the state “to ensure the protection of the rights of the unborn child in all manners and measures lawful and appropriate.” The measure passed with 59 percent support.
Anniston-area Republican representatives Ginny Shaver, R-Leesburg, Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, Steve Hurst, R-Munford, and Randy Wood, R-Anniston all voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, participated in the organized walkout with fellow House Democrats and did not vote.
“I voted for the bill to ban abortion to protect innocent life in Alabama,” Shaver said. She has a bill in committee today that would make it a Class B felony if a doctor does not exercise reasonable care to preserve the life of a child born after an attempted abortion.
Wood said that he supports the bill and said that there might be exceptions to the law bill added later for cases of rape or incest.
“We want this bill to be as clean as possible so it will get before the court without any complications,” Wood said. "We can always go back and add those exceptions later."
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, said she believes the Legislature should address health care and other issues rather than abortion.
"We are about four weeks away from the end of the (legislative session)," Boyd said. “We should be dealing with things that are important to the people, like Medicaid and the sales tax on groceries, not politics. I’ve been here for six terms, and sometimes you need to stand up for what is right no matter even if you are just one person.”
Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, said he voted in support of the bill because state law already protects the life of the unborn.
“In Alabama, if a person kills a pregnant woman, that person will be charged with double homicide,” Kiel said. “That’s because two people were killed. Yet it is legal for a pregnant mother to kill her own child. We need to be consistent. A baby is a person in both instances and should be protected.”
Andrew Sorrell, R-Muscle Shoals, based his vote on moral and legal grounds.
“I believe all life is created by God and is precious to God,” Sorrell said. “My vote today was in defense of those who are incapable of defending themselves. This bill brings the definition of life in line with existing Alabama law regarding homicides and assaults pertaining to a fetus in utero at any stage of development.”
Risky options feared
A.J. McCampbell, D-Livingston, who participated in the organized walk out with fellow House Democrats, said he is worried that this bill could cause women to seek other ways to terminate their pregnancies and put themselves at risk.
“I found today’s bill very interesting because one of the things I see on this bill is that we may be trying to send people, send ladies, back into the days of backroom surgeries and unsterile conditions as well as endangering the lives of young people,” McCampbell said.
Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, argued that there are already other state abortion laws working their way through the courts that could result in Roe v. Wade being challenged.
“You know how say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Well here we are again with an unconstitutional bill, and we're going to get the same result,” England said.
Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the organization is ready to lobby against the bill in the Senate.
“(Tuesday's) floor debate made it crystal clear what Alabama lawmakers think about women,” Fox said in a written statement. “It also revealed just how callous and flagrant they can be. They voted overwhelmingly to reject any exception for rape or incest.”
The state’s current law bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless the pregnancy puts the mother at risk of death or serious harm.
There were 6,768 abortions performed in Alabama in 2017, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.